Now I understand why bank robbers wear masks. Since the pandemic began back in March, I have run into people I have known for decades and failed to recognize them. Sometimes I see a person I think I know but am afraid to say hello because I’m not quite sure.
In the silver lining department, my memory is getting worse all the time and now when I don’t recognize a person, at least I can blame it on the face covering.
Which makes a recent encounter my lovely wife, Lisa, had all the more remarkable.
We are new to our neighborhood. It’s a strange feeling, but it takes the pressure off as far as being expected to recognize folks. But Lisa was buying groceries at a local establishment where shopping really is a pleasure, and a young woman in line with her recognized her, mask and all. Actually, she didn’t so much recognize Lisa as much as she realized that she had known her in a previous life.
Lisa recognized the lady as well but wasn’t sure from where.
It turns out that the lady in the mask was Joanna Wiggins, who now lives near us in Bishop. And Lisa assured me that Mrs. Wiggins looks exactly like she did the last time we saw her, which was more than 20 years ago. It’s a small world after all. (Hope that doesn’t give you an ear worm. If it does, blame Walt Disney.)
Joanna, who now teaches fifth grade at Oconee Elementary School, was our youngest daughter, Jenna’s, first-grade teacher. It was actually Joanna’s first year as an educator.
There’s a back story. There always is.
Jenna’s older siblings had both experienced first grade under the tutelage of the legendary Carol Gamble, who was to the teaching of reading as Einstein was to the understanding of mathematics. It was our expectation that Jenna would also begin her journey through elementary school in Mrs. Gamble’s class. But Carol decided to pass on the opportunity to teach the girl who would grow up to be known as "Danger" to become a reading specialist.
Lowell Biddy, the principal at Sims Elementary School, had hand-picked Mrs. Wiggins to replace Carol Gamble, who was his favorite faculty member and assured us that she would be magnificent — and she was. And when Lisa told me about running into her, I couldn’t help but think back to those idyllic days of our children’s childhoods — and of the first interaction I had with Jenna’s new teacher, who was one of the gentlest and sweetest persons I had ever known.
First of all, you need to know Jenna. She is the free-spirited Huckaby child and has a Godly heart, but inherited her daddy’s wanderlust and love of adventure. Translation: no one has ever known what Jenna might do. She came into the world like that and hasn’t changed. She must have been quite a challenge for a first-year teacher, even one as capable as Joanna Wiggins.
It was early in the school year and my phone rang one morning. Mrs. Wiggins was on the line and sounded very, very nervous at having to call me concerning my child. I could hear the trepidation in her voice as she said, "Mr. Huckaby, I just felt like I needed to talk to you about something that Jenna brought to school today."
I was horrified. Honesty compels me to admit that there were many, many items in our house that I wouldn’t have wanted Jenna to bring to school — particularly if I was going to have to discuss the matter with her sweet young teacher.
With my heart in my throat I asked, "Well, Mrs. Wiggins, what was it?"
She said, "It’s a baby rabbit — and it’s dead."
I started laughing uncontrollably, which must have seemed like a very strange reaction to the new schoolmarm, but I was laughing because I was so relieved.
I assured Jenna’s young teacher that one of our pet rabbits had given birth, but that the rabbit Jenna brought to school was already dead. The poor creature hadn’t succumbed because of being transported to school. I am pretty sure that didn’t ease the trauma of the ghastly situation for the young teacher.
But here is the thing. That was 1998. That sweet young brand-new teacher is now a 23-year veteran — but hasn’t aged a day. She looks just the same, even in a COVID 19-mandated mask. Apparently, so does my lovely wife.
But me, I’ve gotten older and fatter and grayer. Which everyone keeps telling me is better than the alternative. I guess I’ll find out soon enough.
At any rate, I’m glad to be back in same community as Joanna Wiggins and can’t wait to see what other old friends cross my path.